Anyone who has survived trauma knows that there are certain triggers that come up afterwards that
continue to affect your life. For survivors who become parents, the experience of raising children can
bring up many of these triggers. Being aware in advance of what those triggers might be and how to
manage them can ease the anxiety, and also, it really helps just to know that you are not alone in
experiencing these feelings. Below you will find some tips and resources to help you manage when
things get tough. I have included some information specific to moms and dads, and to both. But please
read through all the information, as there may be some cross-over.
For Survivor Moms: We are told that pregnancy is supposed to be a joyful time full of warm, fuzzy
feelings and an instant kinship with the little one growing inside us. But many mothers, even those who
are not survivors, do not experience it. Pregnancy can be a very unsettling experience, as the loss of
control over your body and painful experiences can remind you of the powerless feeling of experiencing
abuse. It is very important that you disclose your abuse history to your caregivers so that they can
support you and let you know what resources are available to you. As well, make sure your partner is
aware that this may be a difficult time for you because of your abuse history. Have a discussion with
your partner about how she/he can support you when you are feeling triggered. Be very honest in this
discussion about what you do and do not want when you are feeling triggered. Some people may want a
hug, others may not want to be touched. The more you can discuss these things in advance, the easier it
will be to get through them together.
For Survivor Dads: Watching your partner go through this crazy transformation can be a frightening
experience. It is hard to watch someone we love go through painful things, and especially during
childbirth may trigger feelings of being powerless and out of control that remind you of your abuse
For Both Parents: As abuse survivors, the time leading up to having a child can bring up many fears,
most notably our fears of being overwhelmed by parenting and turning into an abuser ourselves. Talk
with your partner as these fears come up, so that you can support each other during this time.
Parenting Young Children (0-5)
Small children and sleepless nights make the strongest of us lose it sometimes. Babies and toddlers have
a complete lack of respect for your need for down time and personal space. Breastfeeding can be a
wonderful, connecting experience for you and your baby, or it can feel like an invasion, or just plain
painful. This is an intense period of adjustment to your new reality, and for mothers can also be a time
of intense hormonal surges. Many toddlers go through a phase of hitting or biting at some point, which
can be very traumatic for an abuse survivor. Keep in mind that this is perfectly normal, and does not
mean that there is anything wrong with your child.
Navigating the intimate physicality of parenting young children can be difficult for sexual abuse
survivors. Diaper changing, bath times, even hugs can feel very confusing and bring up irrational fears
that we will become like our abusers. If you can recognize this fear as just another effect of the abuse
itself, you can get some separation between you and it. This one can be particularly scary to talk about,
because of our fear that our children will be taken away from us if we tell someone about it. Again, just
knowing that this is a common fear can give you a bit of distance and allow the truth to come through,
that you are not your abuser, and you can have a healthy, loving physical relationship with your child.
Parenting Older Children – Teens (6-18)
As our children grow up, it can be extremely anxiety inducing to allow them the increased independence
that they need. Sleep overs, trips to the movies with friends, all these kinds of outings can bring up fears
that our children will suffer abuse as we did. Sitting down with your child regularly to talk about
touching and boundaries is the best protection you can give them to prevent this from happening. The
key is to talk about these issues early, often, and casually, just as you would talk to them about being
careful while crossing a street, or signalling before they shift lanes in the car. Encourage your kids to
listen to the “uh-oh” feeling that tells them a situation is not safe. As your kids enter the teen years, talk
to them about healthy relationships, which involve respecting boundaries.
One more time that is challenging for many survivors, is when their child reaches the age that their own
abuse began. Again, speak with your partner or a support person about this when it comes up, so that
they can help support you at this time.
Some Tips for Managing Anxiety and Triggers
No matter what we do or how prepared we think we are, there are times when we are overwhelmed by
an unexpected trigger. Here are some techniques that you can use to manage them:
1. Call a support person. This needs to be someone you trust, who is aware of your abuse history and
will be able to empathetically respond to you.
2. Find a physical practice that helps you release tension. This could be yoga, deep breathing, running or
kick boxing. Whenever we are triggered, that stress response gets stuck in the body, and no amount of
talk therapy will be as effective as physically moving through it.
3. Join the online community at www.facebook.com/TriggerPointsAnthology to read stories of other
parent survivors. Knowing you are not alone really helps.